Hearts On Our Sleeves

(I am currently running a GoFundMe on making exhibition prints for this project, please help if you can. See here)

While we have made strides in equality and human rights, trans people are still being ostracized, and crude demonized caricatures of trans people are used by hostile politicians to advance divisive agendas. The suicide rate for trans people, especially among teens, is much higher than average, and trans people are frequently the victims of hate crimes, as well as victims of discrimination.

[expand title=”…Read more of the Artist Statement”]

People born in bodies that don’t match their brain’s gender, people who feel binary archetypes do not represent who they actually are, and people who are intersex are members of the gender expansive community. They come from all walks of life, and they want to live a decent life like everyone else. They know who they really are, despite those who might want to dictate who they should be and how, even whether, they should express their own truth.

This project was started in 2016, when the hateful political rhetoric of “bathroom bills” thrust transgender human and civil right issues to the forefront of the American psyche.

The goal of this project is to tell their stories, and show who they are. Even in just a few years since the project was begun, our language and society have already experienced some positive change. In 2016, “transgender” was generally a foreign concept to “mainstream” society. In 2019, at least in some circles, young children or teenagers are more able to come out as trans with supportive parents, not because it’s a trendy thing to do, but because that is who they are.

Non-binary, gender-fluid, trans-androgyous, etc. are still fairly novel terms in our language. Referring to someone as “they” (or other pronoun of choice), even if they are a friend that you have known for a long time, takes some practice to get right. However, trans rights are civil rights, and civil rights are human rights. The stories of marginalized people need to be told, and be told in a respectful manner. Richard uses a 4×5 camera to take high-quality portraits of people as they wish to be seen, and spends time to connect with the subjects and learn the stories they have to tell.

One may ask: why is a cisgender male doing a portrait project on this subject? The reality is that, in USA, unless one is white and cisgender, one always carries a “label”. Richard  is Chinese American, and will never “pass” in the so-called mainstream white-dominant society because of his face and accent. In an ideal world, none of us should have a “label” or be marginalized by society, but the world is not ideal (least of all under the current administration) and we cannot get away from being labelled.

Being trans and out takes tremendous courage, and yet, “hidden and silent” will not change the societal status quo, and allows others to impose their own definitions and agenda upon the voiceless. Richard is not trans, but his goal is to be a good ally. He is doing this project because he fiercely believe it needs to be done.


Below are some sample images and their stories. I understand that it could be problematic to be open, I will use only a first name or a pseudonym. Also, here is a link to a slightly outdated slideshow showing more of the images and (expanded) stories: http://richardman.photo/PICS/HeartsOnOurSleeves-Portfolio/

Blake (2018) Blake transitioned a few years ago with loving support from his family and friends. He is very active in the LBGTQ community, volunteering for many events.
Ward (2018) It’s complicated. Ward is AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) and gay, and his alter ego is gender-queer and mother to two adult children.
Cheri (2017) When I photographed Cheri, they did not know whether they want to identify as male or female, or gender non-binary, or whatever. All they know is that they “do not want these breasts”.
Lance (2016) Lance transitioned over 20 years ago. There are many legal and personal obstacles for transgender people and Lance is very active in the trans community, trying to make life easier for other trans people. He received a community service award from the City of San Jose in 2017 for his work.
Nikolai (2017) After divorcing with his wife just a year after marriage even though they had been together for over 10 years, and falling into depression, Nikolai realized that he is transgender. When I took this photo, he just had his first T injection, indicated by the medical band on his wrist. Coming out as a lesbian teenager in Arizona had not been easy, and coming out second time as transgender is no less difficult, even in California. He frequently has people misgendering him.
Brian and Marnie (2018) They were a lesbian couple 20+ years ago, when Brian decided to transition. They figured that it would be worth a try to stay together despite the change. They did and they are still very much in love. Love conquers all.

Jeremie (2018) Growing up in India where the Hijras are considered as the “third gender”, Jeremie found it hard to conform to a single gender. Jeremie is happy with the body they have, and enjoy amateur ballet.

Lina (2018) When I first met Lina, she was wearing a 30 lbs frog-head helmet on her head as part of her cosplay. She is much happier since transitioning 4-5 years ago, and she found acceptance in the anime and cosplay communities.

BJ (2016) BJ was born intersex. The doctor said “it’s easier to remove bits than add things”, so BJ grew up as female despite having a stocky physique, going as far as playing high school football as a girl. Biology caught up with him in his 20s and his body began to shut down until he had corrective surgery. BJ is a lawyer, spending 20% of his time working pro bono on children’s cases. The rule is that the kids can play with the toys they can reach on the shelves and he has a couple cases of toys.

Andry (2019) Andry had male and female lovers. Assigned female at birth, they wore dresses for cosplay and at Victorian fair events. Suffering from gender dysphoria, in 2017, they decided that they are trans-androgynous. In late 2018, they finally had the “top” surgery. They still wear dresses at times when they feel like it, rocking the androgynous lifestyle.